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Sometimes I'm embarrassed for the person I'm talking to. Is there a better way to describe how I'm feeling? English is not my first language.

Embarrassment might not be the right term. The feeling I'm trying to invoke is the kind you feel when a student claims to understand philosophy, then calls David Hume "light reading" or "pop philosophy," despite demonstrating clear unfamiliarity with the subject. ("Hume is a bit simple and silly. He doesn't resolve important issues of existence, like why we exist," etc.)

(Just an example, of course. A similar one would be a student claiming to be a physicist after reading Michio Kaku, and then proceeding to "demolish" the Standard Model.)

I think you know the kind of person.

I want to say that I feel embarrassed for this person, but that doesn't sound right. When I'm embarrassed, it's a deeply personal thing; when I feel "embarrassed" for the kind of person I outlined above, it's sort of a disconnected experience, one with the realization of "oh dear".

I want to say that I feel something like condescension, but that doesn't sound right. Condescension is usually mixed with anger; or the definitive grouping of the target of your condescension in the category "inferior". But, again, this isn't right because the feeling is distinctly disconnected.

The word I'm looking for has a very mild "presence", if it exists.

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4 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The word "embarrassed" is used by native English speakers in exactly the sort of situation you describe. "I felt embarrassed for them" implies that you are certain the other person is doing or saying something embarrassingly wrong and that they would be embarrassed if only they knew!

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English, Ward, E nglish*! :) –  Kris Sep 29 '12 at 10:53
    
Oops... I'm going to blame in on late-night answering! –  Ward Sep 29 '12 at 16:48
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+1 Another newly popular term is facepalm, which does not in its primary usage qualify as an answer to OP's question, but is used participially and attributively (Google facepalmed and facepalm moment) for the appalled wish-I-were-somewhere-else feeling OP describes. –  StoneyB Sep 29 '12 at 19:08
    
+1 to @StoneyB's comment. "Facepalm" is very commonly used in situations where one is interacting with, or observing, someone who misunderstands something simple or crucial. However, it is not quite appropriate as a substitute for 'embarrassed', as it doesn't describe an emotion but a suppressed physical reaction, and is usually used where instead an expletive such as "AAAARGH" or sigh could be used. –  Niel de Beaudrap Feb 12 at 18:09
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Perhaps one of awkward, disconcerted, or simply bemused will be suitable.

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You can always say you pitied him/her. "He's to be pitied for his ignorance." "He didn't know what he was talking about. I pitied him."

Pity sometimes has condescension, never anger.

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The informal and possibly offensive term douche chills is a partial match. But it's very much an intense, visceral reaction to someone else's douchery. It's also an Americanism.

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I'm in the U.S., and I've never heard this one before. (That doesn't mean this answer's "wrong," it simply means that it might get you an odd look if you mutter it to someone unfamiliar with the term.) –  J.R. Sep 29 '12 at 9:34
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The fact that you thought it necessary to provide a link for the phrase suggests it may not be much in circulation. Just my thought. –  Kris Sep 29 '12 at 10:55
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Regardless of the familiarity of the phrase, I don't think there is any way this satisfies the OP's requirement (as stated in the last line) of a "very mild presence". –  John Y Sep 29 '12 at 18:38
    
@JohnY: that depends on what "mild 'presence'" means. If that means "isn't well-known," then this answer might be apt. That said, even if "mild presence" refers to "genteel language," I still think the comment contributes to the overall conversation, particularly since this poster gave fair warning about the language being possibly offensive. –  J.R. Sep 29 '12 at 20:14
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